Australia v India Tests
Australia spin way to massive victory
Stephen O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon skittle India for 107 to wrap up a huge 333-run win
Andrew Ramsey at the MCA Stadium, Pune
25 February 2017, 11:59 PM AEST
Anyone flicking through the online records of the first Test of this India-Australia series in years to come looking to understand how such a counter-intuitive result came about need only watch the video of Virat Kohli’s second innings dismissal.
Which the India captain, who was today handed his first Test loss in front of his adulatory supporters in the form of a 333-run spanking inside three days, might need to study closely himself in the week before the teams meet next at Bengaluru.
For it was Kohli’s wicket, shouldering arms to a delivery from player of the match Stephen O’Keefe that found as much spin as it met resistance from the rival skipper’s bat, that exemplified the yawning gulf between the two teams.
Somehow, the touring team that former India spinner Harbhajan Singh had predicted would be whitewashed 4-0 after he labelled it the worst to land on India soil had been transformed into a giant-killer somewhere between arriving in Mumbai and celebrating in Pune.
And the home side that had not lost a home Test since 2012 and was staring at 20 consecutive matches without defeat on familiar terrain was reduced to nervous novices on a pitch they seemed unable to recognise.
Against a largely unheralded spin bowler to whom they had no answer.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) February 25, 2017
After Kohli’s departure for 13, at which time India slumped to 3-47 and any hope they held of chasing a laughable victory target of 441 fell flatter than their skipper’s off stump, the world’s most feared batter stared quizzically at the pitch beneath him.
As if it was the surface’s fault that he had failed to recognise that O’Keefe is as eminently capable of causing harm with deliveries that don’t spin as is India’s spin pair Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Which seemed to be the theme that ran throughout an extraordinary match, played at eye watering speed from the time Australia went to lunch at day one at a rather sedate 1-84.
The ensuing seven-and-a-half sessions then yielded 39 wickets at a rate that would have alarmed most highway patrol cops.
As Australia’s batters, who were supposed to hold no clue about surviving let alone thriving on a pitch that went several steps past a spinner’s deck comfortably outscored India in both innings and looked infinitely more at home than their hosts.
A fact no better illustrated than the fact Australia’s bottom five managed to very nearly top the total of India’s entire batting line-up in both innings – which yielded 105 and 107 – across the heavily truncated Test.
The only batter to truly come to terms with the dry, crumbling pitch that had been left unwatered for days heading into the Test and thereby ensured the match finished days before it was due, was an Australian – their skipper Steve Smith.
His 109 fashioned patiently over almost an entire day at the crease shone like a beacon through the dust and the way he batted this morning led to speculation perhaps the track on which India had imploded in barely 40 overs a day earlier had magically come good overnight.
So rarely did Smith look troubled and so little overt difficulty did Australia have extending their lead (despite the early loss of their last specialist batter Mitchell Marsh early in the day) beyond 350, then 400 and ultimately to 440.
As that unfolded, the India spinners who were supposed to prove unplayable on a surface similar to those on which Australia stumbled to a 0-3 humiliation in Sri Lanka last year were made to look more and more mortal.
The body language of the India team betrayed a loss of superiority, as they watched the game slide further and further from their grasp with hands fixed firmly on hips and blank stares from behind sponsor’s sunglasses.
Indeed, it was the way Australia went about doubling their overnight score that led a few of the most fervent India fans to believe their powerful batting line-up might even salvage a draw by surviving for two and a half days. Maybe even get close to that 441 if that happened.
But within half an hour of that mission beginning, it was revealed as doomed when openers Murali Vijay and KL Rahul fell in hauntingly familiar to their team’s first innings demise.
And selfishly chose to burn India’s two DRS reviews on speculative calls for referrals along the way.
Not only consigning their teammates to the fate of the on-field umpires, but providing Australia with an extra pep in their step as they marched to what they clearly saw as their destined victory.
That parade was led again by O’Keefe, the maligned spinner who finished with identical figures to his first innings rout (6-35) to equal Jason Krezja’s mark for the most wickets by an Australia bowler in India.
Quick Single: O'Keefe spins into record books
As happened a day earlier, India’s wickets fell in such abject haste that the end of the Test came at a gallop unforeseen even at the lunch break.
No batter beyond number five managed double figures, as O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon swept through to claim the final seven wickets for 30 runs to deliver a thumping 333-run win.
The second-largest (in terms of runs) achieved on Indian soil.
The problem for the home team heading to Bengaluru now extends beyond the altered expectations of the opposing sides.
Do they trot out another raging spin deck as was the case in Pune where they have been publicly humbled, or do they back the talent of a team ranked number one in the world and prepare a true, competitive cricket wicket.
Either way, Australia find themselves in a position that they have not experienced for more than a decade.
Front-runners in a series in India, and with confidence to sit alongside their undoubted competence.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) February 23, 2017
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) February 23, 2017